The pandemic has forced restaurant operators to consider new revenue streams. Robots may help open some doors. Salad bars and buffets may not be operating as they were, for example, but could a robot offer a similar product – and operate in a context removed from a sit-down restaurant? Candace MacDonald, cofounder and managing director of hospitality consultancy Carbonate, told Modern Restaurant Management that companies like Salad Station are using robotic vending to serve up salads in new locations – and at the same time, are likely reaching new customers. Could you envision offering menu items through robotic vending via a grocery store or hospital cafeteria?
As strange as these times have been for restaurants, they’re also strange for restaurant guests – and helping the public understand and follow your updated procedures takes some work. A recent webinar from Winsight and SevenRooms pointed out how tech can help hold the restaurant guest’s hand through the changes and make them feel not just more informed but also more cared for while COVID-19 persists. Tech management of reservations and communications around seating can be especially helpful in preparing a guest for their visit before they enter the restaurant. Instead of gathering at the host’s stand in the front of the restaurant to inquire about wait times, for example, guests can wait outside or in their car and receive an alert. When their table is ready, they can receive another text alert asking them to enter the restaurant. Operators can use tech to set guest expectations too. By specifying the location of available tables and pointing out a reservation end time, restaurants can help guests plan accordingly – and also get some assurance they will have a table available for other guests at a certain point.
Does the technology you use help minimize the number of steps required for a customer to place an order? Off-premise dining is here to stay and major chains are focusing on perfecting the off-premise experience right now. That involves integrating new digital tools to make ordering easier and faster. Panera, for one, has a new integration with Google’s Search, Maps and Assistant apps that allows people to order food for pickup and delivery directly from Google. Other large chains are likely to follow – and while the investment may not be as feasible for smaller brands, it’s still important for the tech you use to bring efficiency to the process of ordering and connecting people with your food – whether that involves minimizing the searching, scrolling and number of clicks required for people to place an order online, or streamlining your pickup and delivery processes.
The next step in contactless payment?
Imagine not having to touch your credit card or mobile phone to make a payment. That’s the reality for a number of restaurants and retailers in the Pasadena, Calif. area who recently launched PopID’s facial recognition payment technology – and pandemic-related anxiety about contacting various surfaces may create more demand for such technology. After customers register an account with PopID, they can visit a restaurant and the system will scan their face, which will bring up their past orders, loyalty points and stored payment details. While drive-thru and walk-up kiosks will still require a customer to touch a screen for now, tableside orders and payments can be completely touch-free.
What’s next in touch-free tech
It seems like just a short time ago that ordering via a touchscreen at your table – or scrolling through a wine list or viewing other menu-related content on a communal tablet at a fine dining restaurant – was considered futuristic. Now that contactless is king and shared touchscreens are tools consumers may aim to avoid (unless they have hand sanitizer nearby), where are we likely to see tableside innovation? On a recent Foodable podcast, Shaun Shankel, CEO of FreshTechnology and ToGoTechnologies, expressed optimism in QR codes as mobile payment vehicles. Already in use to help guests at some restaurants view menus during the pandemic, QR codes are likely to gain momentum as a tool that enables a touch-free experience at a restaurant. They’re another reason to ensure all content you create for customers – whether it’s your menu, your background story, or behind-the-scenes videos you produce – is easy to view, interact with, and (where applicable) pay for via a customer’s personal device.
A virtual recovery
Back in June, the National Restaurant Association named virtual gift cards on a list of restaurant tech tools that it predicted would best support the industry’s recovery from the pandemic. Virtual gift cards – as opposed to the plastic ones that clutter a person’s wallet – make contactless, fast payment possible, so they’re well suited to these times. Further, since more than 70 percent of gift card recipients spend more than the face value of their cards, according to research from Givex, they can help lift check totals. Are you offering and promoting virtual gift cards on your website, app and social media platforms?
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